General, Research, Technology

Is it true that people are cruel in nature?

Sorry, peacekeepers. A study based on an innovative approach to mapping the evolution of fatal violence showed that Homo sapiens was descended from one of the most violent branches of mammals. The tendency to fight is in our DNA. However, do not get upset: the researchers also found that our tendency to kill each other can be mitigated. In fact, the question of why people are prone to killing their own kind has tormented many scientists and philosophers for centuries. Part of the problem is that the very theme of violence includes a huge amount of potential outside influence that is difficult to separate in any scientifically sound way.

Alas, bloodthirstiness is in our blood. But this is not a sentence!

A 2016 study showed that Homo sapiens is part of a particularly brutal line of hominids that spans millions of years.

Addiction to violence

Indeed, if you look closely atof other mammals, it turns out that almost all have a level of fatal violence in relation to a representative of the same species at about 0.30% - roughly speaking, there is 1 chance out of 300 to be killed by a relative. But for the ancestor of the great apes (including us), this figure was 1.8%. Moreover, the closer to the moment of the appearance of our species, the higher the rate of violence towards their own kind, which made the chance of being killed by your neighbor 1 out of 50, or 2%. In other words, our species is at the peak of a steady increase in intraspecific mortal violence, which continues about 100 million years.

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Researchers whose work was published inNature magazine has collected data on more than 4 million deaths among more than 1000 species of mammals, from shrews to whales, as well as 600 human populations dating from the time of hunter-gatherers to the present day. Using modeling methods similar to those that allow the evolution of specific physical attributes to be traced, the team plotted the prevalence of fatal violence within each species.

Several patterns were also found: some species of animals, especially whales and bats, as it turned out, get along well with their brethren. Needless to say about herbivorous mammals, you understand. But scientists also found that the more social and territorial the species was, the more common was the deadly violence between its members.

It makes sense: if you live with other members of a social group, you simply have more opportunities to get into a bloody quarrel. And if you have limited resources, or you are trying to protect or expand your territory, then you have more motives to hit a competitor in the head. Yes, motive and opportunity - nothing changes.

On the graph, intraspecific violence among othersmammals highlighted in color. The lighter, the less cruel the view in relation to their relatives. And the closer to red, the more likely it is that blood will be shed. Humans (Red Triangle, top left) come from a particularly bloodthirsty line (note the concentration of yellow, orange, and red among primates)

If you carefully look at the circle above, thenyou may notice that primates are not the only branch of the family tree with a tendency to kill their own kind. Not surprisingly, scientists have found that carnivorous non-primitive carnivores also tend to be more violent towards each other, especially those living in social, territorial groups. Read even more interesting articles about human nature and the evolution of our species on our channel in Yandex.Zen. There are articles that are not on the site.

Are people really evil?

However, before finally giving up onto the human race, one should look at the second part of the study, which gives some hope. Let me remind you, scientists found that the sharp surge in bloodshed that occurred around the beginning of the Iron Age corresponds to the period when a significant part of our species abandoned hunter-gatherers or left small settlements in relatively large urban areas. This is also the time when organized states have intensified competition for territory. Motive and opportunity, remember?

Do you think our species could evolve without a tendency to kill its own kind? Let's talk about this in our Telegram chat, as well as in the comments on this article.

And yet, over the last century or sothere is an accelerated decline in the level of fatal violence against each other. Today, in the most developed societies, the homicide rate is less than 1 in 10,000. Thus, while the results of the study convincingly prove that we are inherently more cruel than other mammals, it turned out that social systems and cultural norms can keep this inborn aggression in check.